For a lot of people living with social anxiety the idea of living in a very busy place, every day, confronted with strangers, looking at you, sometimes in close and terribly unsociable close situations, listening to everyones conversations and assessing all the different personalities not only sounds exhausting but could be the thing of nightmares for many a sufferer of anxiety.
For the founder of BoM he had no choice, he knew a professional job was important to help him on his road to recovery & was determined to change his life for the better. When he applied for jobs all over his country and was offered a job opportunity his anxiety went to the back of his mind, now was the time to step up.
He took a leap of faith and chose to confront his anxiety and depression to the extreme levels and also attempt to start his career. In this blog post he discusses why moving to a busy place like London may have been the right cure for his anxiety problem all along.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Anxiety (intense nervousness) and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.
Social anxiety is a fear of being unfairly judged or criticized by others and can happen to a person for many reasons,
What does it feel like to suffer with social anxiety?
This 3 minute video will help you get a brief understanding of the feelings a person will get when socially anxious.
Why did the founder of Battle of Mind become socially anxious?
Photo: Autumn 2011, three months previous to this photo he had been clinically diagnosed with severe depression, at high risk of suicide and social anxiety after experiencing strings of bad luck and extreme levels of stress for years in various aspects of life, financially, career and relationships. By the end of his higher education he was down to bare basics in all areas of his life other than having a caring, strong family, everything else was gone.
For the founder of BattleofMind.com he had been under immense stress and pressure when he had ‘failed’ at becoming an Architect in 2008, partly from himself but also from his ex partner.
His partner at the time was very pressurising on him to find work as soon as he had graduated ( this was May 2008, so it was right at the foot of the recession). His partner at the time had said ‘she had given up her chosen career, for me so you can do the same’ and feeling guilty, 2 months later, he enrolled on teacher training that paid well but unfortunately met a couple of female mentors that were not only unprofessional in their work but made his life incredibly difficult and instead of helping him chose to play mind games with him.
Not only had he felt that he haid failed to become an architect, he now felt as though they were holding the strings of his future like a puppet, he chose to keep quiet and fight through it until eventually it led to a breakdown and a low mood for the rest of the teaching degree.
The combination of stress, pressure, lack of hope for the future and cruelty of other people began to make him anxious in social situations that any time he was in proximity of groups of people he felt he would be being judged negatively so was always listening and looking to people in his surroundings to see if his idea of others was correct or not and to be able to defend himself if necessary.
It sounds totally irrational to someone who lives a ‘normal’ life who has not experienced such deep stress, lack of empathy from both his fiance, his working environment, his financial pressure was awful and the pressure he put on himself to find a professional career and make a life for himself all combined to make a ticking time bomb inside his mind.
The combination of it all led to him having a breakdown and for a while, distorted views of how the world is, how it had been unfair and people, in particular, were often the root cause to the problems in his life so rather than risk having more problems he began to avoid social situations.
Although he had had enough of his life he found it hard to be in social situations, eventually, he realised it wasn’t healthy to live this way so began to confront his views and the feelings that came with them, he began to challenge himself through CBT and wanted to improve his future so used his past experiences to make his life rather than define how he saw the world to be.
So now you know (ver roughly) why it happened, here is the story of moving to London with social anxiety…
Before London let’s go to…Colombia!
If you have read a previous story of John’s you will know before he moved to London he travelled to Colombia (want to know how he got there with no money? Read this article about how ebay saved his life)…on his own, at the time he was on very high dose of Citalopram to control his depression and anxiety, a crazy thought considering his condition but it might have been the catalyst that was needed.
Sitting in the plane, looking out the window, looking down over the world he started to change his perspective of how he thought about people and also his feelings of where his place was in the world.
He came to the conclusion that each and every person is so small in terms of the size of the planet, in terms of the size of the universe, no matter if it is the president of the USA, the Prime Minister of the UK or a bin man, when it came down to it we are all the same, it is only how the powers that be chose to use money and materialism that ‘psychologically’ makes society as a whole think someone is better, more successful or more impressive than the next person but from this perspective, society’s perspective of what is important in life fades away and that the more money you have makes them ‘better’ and ‘happier’ in life is clearly not all it seems.
Just take a look at this video below to realise, we are only a small part of a larger system. Sometimes we need perspective in order to realise whatever it is that is bothering us really shouldn’t be given much attention, we are small so how small is our problem?
Video of our earth, take time to watch this and realise we are all a part of a system. We are all important and all of us equal. We are born with nothing, we die with nothing.
For the founder it was easy to see, no one is better than anyone else, no matter what their status or ‘monetary’ wealth and that no problem we feel or experience is as massive or problematic as we think it is either. ( To read more about the Colombia experience please click this link).
On return from Colombia he had a new found experience and perspective on life. He was beginning to think positive thoughts again and he was more determined than ever to find work and change his life’s fortunes around.
The negative past experience were no longer going to weigh him down, stop him living life he had worked so hard for in higher education for 7 years of his adult life, it was time to act!
The move to London
Photo: At this point, July 2012, he had just secured his first professional creative job, was taking 40mg Citalopram, still with mild depression and anxiety. He was on the road to recovery and he was doing a job he had the skills to do. It was time to make change happen.
Moving to London was a bit of adventure, it was a new place, a new environment, new people and a new vocation.
Everything was new and it is also one of the busiest places in the world, let alone in the the UK. To think only 12 months previous his life was completely different. He was feeling good and the feeling of someone finally accepting you into their business was a great one.
He remembers that moment when he took the phone call at Euston station after his interview, it was a feeling of something finally changing, the chance he took paid off.
I guess that’s the good that comes out of depression and anxiety, when something does go the way you expect or want it to the feelings and gratitude you feel is immense. You don’t know who to thank but I guess you could say ‘god’.
It really was like the film ‘The pursuit of happiness’. For the founder, having a job he had trained himself to do through an expensive education was important to his life fulfillment and why his depression and social anxiety had less hold over him plus, with it being a new place, it helped him feel better as well as the anti-depressants all combined to make confronting his problems that bit easier.
The feeling you get when things finally start to get better for you. It really is euphoria.
Getting the job cured his anxiety? No, it wasn’t even about money either, although money was important to help him be able to live a normal life it was just the first step to fixing the direction in which his life had gone in for so many years, his mind was damaged and was going to take time to heal, like any other part of the body , but the job was one of the tools to really get him back on the right path.
Although the job was finally in place, he was still taking citalopram to help manage his depressive and anxious mood, he still suffered with both of the feelings he had previously felt, his past pains were haunting him and his mind had really been badly affected by negative experiences he had through his life during 2004 to 2011 and the aftermath that entailed.
The challenge of moving
Living with social anxiety, you would think, would stop you doing things and to be honest, it did mean he did less social activities than the average person but once he had moved, he did decide to take himself on his own to London to see the sites and sounds of one of the most famous and popular cities in the world.
Whenever his anxiety would crop up and of course it did (he was still quite unwell) he would attempt to be conscious of his breathing, divert his attention away from the place he felt may cause him anxiety and then in his mind tell himself ‘it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, I know I am a good person and that’s all that matters’.
That is the main strategy that helped him initially, whenever the sweats, dizziness and feelings of blankness came across his mind.
The tube of discomfort
Getting on the tube was really really uncomfortable for a person who is ‘normal’ let alone a person who is ‘socially anxious’ on 40mg of antidepressants.
Trying to avoid eye contact but still listening to conversations with no where to look and not even a mobile phone for comfort as you are below ground, it was probably one of his biggest challenges but the fortunate thing about the tube system is that you are rarely on one line for longer than a few minutes at a time, so it wasn’t an experience a socially anxious person had to have for very long, which helped keep the anxiety at bay.
Once the weeks, months and years passed gradually, the tube became commonplace and his feelings of anxiety also reduced.
So many people
No matter where you turn in London you will always encounter lots and lots of people. If you visit the train stations of Victoria, Euston or London Bridge there is even more vast quantities of people. Wow, for a socially anxious person to be totally surrounded by people, must have been a nightmare?? No, not really, as there are so many people in London you just feel like you are starting to blend in rather than stand out amongst the crowd. You are just another face in the sea of busy professionals and so felt as though the anxiety of people personally judging him reduced greatly.
Met a girl
Tackling social anxiety alone can be difficult, that is what he had to do at first if he wanted change. He faced his fears alone which took courage but a few months later he met a woman (who would later in life, become his wife) of Tibetan descent.
We met initially as friends, going for a meal at Covent Garden. Being alone in the city he wanted to get to know people outside of work, even though anxious and his new Tibetan friend was the girl who became his very best friend in all ways.
After the meal they went to the Tate gallery and visited Damien Hursts special exhibition. In the exhibition was a chamber of butterflies and I saw a glimmer of the kind of person she was as she had real concern for these small animals.
This image of concern for all beings really well represents her personality perfectly, she is compassionate and kind ( as well as beautiful ) and why only after a few meetings we became bf and gf.
Although kind and compassionate she came from a place where mental illness, depression and anxiety is not really thought about or even considered the same way as it is in the West, there is no time to get ‘unwell in the mind’ otherwise you just become homeless.
Being Tibetan her Country’s leader is the Dalai Lama that promotes peace of mind and how to achieve happiness, but scientifically, she had no idea of the extent of how depression and anxiety can affect a person’s life negatively.
Even though very kind, at times she found it hard to comprehend what was wrong and would get frustrated and confused about why he felt the way he did and why he didn’t just act normal but sometimes, the way she didn’t understand and got angry helped him to improve himself.
His love is his motivation
His new found love was all the motivation he needed to ensure he tried his best to keep challenging his thoughts and pushing himself forward no matter what the difficulty or the painful stabbing pain he would often get in his chest. He always challenged himself to confront things he didn’t feel 100% comfortable with, he knew anxiety was a lot to do with what you think before a situation and then how you feel during the situation you can get worse and there is a constant fear that you will not know how to react if someone challenges you.
The more he went out with his new wife to see different places the more his anxiety reduced as nothing bad happened on most occasions. Most of the time things went by fairly normally.
Social Anxiety is exhausting
After any trip out anyone gets exhausted but now try and imagine taking in absolutely every conversation, every sound, every visual, every facial expression, remembering it, playing with an idea, assessing whether anything happened during your trip. That is what an anxious person goes through and why they are often tired at the end of a day out challenging themselves.
It is like constantly policing your entire environment all the time and by the end of a day, it is exhausting!
This was probably the only thing about London, wherever you go there is always groups of people talking, laughing and joking so being conscious of what it is all about and what is being talked about is draining of your mental energy.
Not always a good experience
Although now a lot better than he was on his journey of ‘challenging himself’ it didn’t always go great. There were times when he just couldn’t face certain situations. He had a particular phobia of walking towards groups of 3 to 5 people on his own in an open space as he felt that people gossip when they are with others.
There were times when he felt he couldn’t confront his phobia but eventually, in time he did and he still makes progress day by day three years after he initially became diagnosed with severe depression and social anxiety.
How to live in london with social anxiety?
So why was he able to live in london even with severe depression and social anxiety? Here is a brief overview
- Necessity to work after being taken off disability living allowance from the Conservative Government being deemed ‘fit to work’ even though six months previous he was clinically assessed as suicidal.
- Blended in more with large crowds so didn’t feel as anxious around people.
- Fell in love with a Tibetan woman who he connected with and still helps him improve every day.
- Challenged his own thoughts by replacing it with positive thinking
- Challenged himself to be in situations he wouldn’t like to be in naturally.
- Analysing the day’s experience after he had it and seeing that the anxiety was in large part incorrect.
- Learning breathing techniques ( of which I will be discussing shortly!).
After experiencing living with social anxiety in London for several years the anxious feelings have began to subside for him.
They are not totally gone but it is possible they never fully will. It is quite normal for anyone to feel nervous in some situations and the good thing that has come from his anxiety is that it has made him more aware of his emotions and how to control them. One must always learn how to deal with their emotions and nerves correctly so that they don’t jeopardise living life to the full.
In a future blog post I will discuss techniques on how to try to control your anxiety, I hope you enjoyed the ‘overview’ of the founders journey and challenge through his social anxiety.
Things can improve, it isn’t easy but it is possible to change your situation. Challenge yourself and never give up!